Why Do We Front Squat?
The Squat. The King of all exercises? But why FRONT Squats?
Front squatting recruits the muscles of the upper back and forces thoracic extension in order to hold the bar on the shoulders; therefore, it can help prevent kyphosis (excessive spine curvature) in the thoracic spine if elbows are kept as high as possible throughout the movement. Think of how beautiful your posture will be once you develop the muscles through your back! The front squat demands much more of an upright torso position throughout the full range of motion (as opposed to back squat), which places much less stress on the spine. This is great conditioning for more dynamic exercises such as squat cleans because it develops the rigidity to keep the spine stable when receiving heavy weight in the front rack position.
Practicing the front squat will help develop great flexibility! What’s not to love about a lift that allows you to get strong while getting supple? While in the bottom position of the front squat, the ankles, shoulders, wrists and hips will be pushed to their mobility limits, which is not always the case with a back squat as lifters will often cut the squat short. You’ll know it if you simply can’t hit the bottom- you’ll fail to keep the chest up, or elbows up, or you’ll get smooshed to the bottom and can’t get out… Time to work that mobility!
The very nature of the front squat requires the load to be place on the front of the body, resting on the shoulders, very close to your throat (please keep breathing); any forward torso lean and the bar will fall to the floor. This upright torso places less of a shear force on the spine and therefore makes it a better option for those with back issues. However, if you have any back issues, please choose a safe weight. One that doesn’t force you to struggle to keep your elbows up. Once the ‘bows drop, and the chest drops, and the back curves… bad news bears people. While you fight to keep that bar at your shoulders, you’ll light up your back. So while the load may not sit directly on your spine, the struggle is real- real bad news for your stabilizer muscles if the weight out of your safe zone (visit the Tabata Times link for accessory work to help with common issues).
“You could argue that the front squat is a better measure of strength than a back squat because you cannot “cheat” a front squat by turning it into a good morning” (Time out. Who does that?! Don’t do that!). Many people will find that when tested, the ratio between their front squat and back squat are off; for a balanced athlete, that ratio should be around 85%. The front squat recruits more quadriceps and the back squat is a more posterior dominant movement (big need for hammies and glutes); if your front squat is below 85% of your back squat then you probably need more front squats (and quads) in your life.
The front squat is very useful for the CrossFit athlete of any ability. Think of all the movements that require the bar on the shoulders; the stronger that position is, the easier many exercises become. Think power cleans, cleans, push press, push jerk, split jerk, etc. If you’ve ever gotten bruises on your sternum or collarbones, then this could be a weakness in the upper back from dropping elbows when cleaning or going overhead. Get familiar with that bar on your shoulders for reasons other than the clean! Crushing the front squat will help you crush the clean, and will have you comfortable under heavier movements in the press series!